Authors: Ted Wood
For Mary, who has made me a happy man
he short one had a two-by-four in his hands. The big one was swinging his arms, punching his right fist into his left palm like a ball player. They were standing in the shadows of the fence that went all around the construction site, waiting for me, the way they must have waited for the last security guard, the one they had put in the hospital.
I guess they had come from the van that was parked up the street when I came on duty at midnight, working on my Academy Award for best performance as a no-hoper. I had been slump-shouldered and shabby, my Bonded Security uniform baggy, the tie knotted the wrong way so the narrow end lay in front. They had probably laughed when they saw me drain the mickey of rye I was carrying and drop the bottle down the sewer. They didn't know it was only cold tea. They were expecting a loser, not a policeman.
I stayed in character, flashing my light over them, nervously, but beyond as well, checking they had no reinforcements waiting to join in the headkicking if they put me down.
"Hey, who's there?" I kept my voice tense. The short one chuckled and swung his four-foot length of timber, nice and easy. "You're not s'posed to be here." I said and straightened up, not dramatically enough to make them suspicious. My job was to hold themâboth if possible, one anyway.
The big one came out first. He had shoulder-length hair that looked gray in the bluish light on the pole in the middle of the site. "Hi Pop," he said, and then the little one charged me.
I paused one second to whistle a long clear note through my front teeth, then crouched to meet him. He was whirling his club, expecting me to cower or run. Instead I ducked under his swing, catching him on the wrong foot, gripping his right wrist and sticking out my left hip. His own momentum took him up and over, flat on his back like a flopped mattress, three yards beyond me. Then the second one charged and I dropped into the classic boxing crouch my father had taught me twenty-five years before and shot out a straight left, only with the hand up, flat against his chest.
He ran on to it and his feet flew from under him, leaving him on his back almost under me. I knee-dropped in his gut and the air went out of him with a whoomph. Behind me I heard Sam barking as he galloped over the broken ground and I shouted "Fight" without looking back. The big man lay working his legs and sucking for air that wouldn't come. I turned, keeping low, in time to see Sam grab the short guy by the arm that still held the two-by-four. "Good dog," I told him and he snarled and clamped his jaws tighter until the man yelled and dropped the board. I picked it up and swung it across his shins, not hard, just enough to remind him he had started all this. Then I told Sam "Easy," and he fell back, panting.
I stooped and rubbed his head with the ugly torn ear. "You're worth a whole platoon," I told him. "Good boy." He whined with pleasure and I patted him again and told the man, "Pick up your buddy and let's go."
He swore and I swung the two-by-four the way he had, earlier. "Pick him up."
He did, cradling the limp body in his arms. "That's good," I told him. "Head for the shack."
He staggered, swearing but never letting go, over the forty yards to the trailer that the builder had placed beside the gate as an office. I ushered him up the three steps ahead of me and he stumbled up and lowered his friend to the floor inside. Sam was half a step behind me and I told him "Keep" and we both stood looking at the pair of them as they lolled on the floor, against the wall.
I reached the phone off the hook and dialled, then grabbed the knot of that lousy necktie and wriggled it free. Fullwell answered the phone, repeating the number I'd dialled.
"Hi, Simon. Reid Bennett. We had visitors."
"Did you stop them?" His voice ran halfway up the scale to an anxious yell.
"Yes. They're here in the shack with me, behaving like good boys."
"Nice work buddy. I'll be there in five."
He hung up and I followed suit. I flicked the tie a couple of times to get the creases out and retied it, properly. I've worn uniform enough years that I like to do it right. Not always as smartly as I once wore dress blues in the U.S. Marines, but as tidy as the copper I'd been in Toronto for nine years. Then I took my cap off and reached for my lunch pail. I had a thermos in there and I poured myself a cup of coffee and looked over the prisoners.
The small guy was watching me, puzzling. He had the thin, mean look of an underfed dog and the black tattoos on both arms that told me he had done time, probably heavy time, in the pen. He was in his late twenties, scrawny and angry.
The other one was the standard racetrack rough. You can see a dozen like him any night, making two-dollar bets and waiting for his luck to change. He was in his thirties and by the look of his check shirt and dirty green work pants, it hadn't changed yet.
The younger one spoke at last, a blurted question, almost embarrassed. "What happened to the old guy who came on at midnight?"
"I'm not that old," I told him.
"You? Christ! This guy was way shorter, a real rubbie."
I wanted to warn him not to judge books by their covers but he probably didn't read that much anyway, so I sat quietly, sipping coffee and waiting for Fullwell to arrive. I was looking forward to it. He'd asked me to do a job for him and I'd done it; I figured I could collect the cash he'd promised me and head back to Murphy's Harbour. Not a bad day's work.
t began the day before. I was picking tomatoes from the vines I'd stuck into the sandy garden of my house at Murphy's Harbour a couple of months earlier when the only tomatoes you could buy were jetlagged with the trip from California. Now the store in town was full of fresh local produce, and I was stuck with the problem of disposing of enough Beefsteaks to feed the world. Plus I had the second worry of what to do with the remaining thirteen days of my vacation. That was when Fullwell pulled into the driveway in his Oldsmobile.
He waved and called "Hi" as he got out of the car and slapped his knee for Sam to come and get patted. He knows Sam from before but that didn't get him any favors until I told Sam "Friend" and he wandered over to take his stroking. I followed and shook hands.
Fullwell looked at me approvingly. "That's one hell of a tan," he said.
"Easy to come by. I've spent the whole summer looking for lost kids, tagging cars, checking for stolen boats," I said.
He grinned, "Yeah, and solving homicides."
"That too. But now I'm on vacation, just like rich folks."
"I bet," he drawled it as if he were telling a joke, saving the punchline for later. He stretched his shoulders, extending both arms straight, like a scarecrow. "It's quite a drive up here."
"And you didn't make it to come fishing, did you?" I nodded towards the house, "Come in and have a beer."
"Good thinking." He tossed his openweave fedora through the window of his car and followed me into the house. I left the tomatoes where they were. The fruit flies would feel more at home in the open air.
My fridge was pretty well empty except for a case of Labatt's Classic. I hooked a couple out and took them through to the parlor. It's not a comfortable room, or house for that matter, but I don't need a lot to keep me happy. I spent two years in Nam, mostly in the boonies. Being in out of the rain is still a luxury.
Fullwell sat in the armchair. Because it faces the TV he probably figured it was the most comfortable chair in the house. He didn't know the set is dead and the chair dying. A spring twanged under him and he frowned.
"My ex-wife got the good stuff," I explained.
He managed a smile. He's a big, pale man, one of those paper-skinned redheads who never take a tan, even if they're in the sun for a week. And he never is. He's an office worker. He spends his time indoors at Bonded Security in Toronto. We'd met when he came up to Murphy's Harbour on a murder investigation after one of his guys got himself cancelled. Afterwards, Fullwell had offered me a job. I guessed he was back here to up the ante.
He took out his little tin of Dutch cigarillos and looked around for an ashtray. I got up and found him one I'd picked up in Hong Kong while I was on R and R there during my first tour in Nam. He nodded thanks, put it on his knee and lit up.
"I was wondering how busy you were, now the summer's over and your cottagers have all gone home." He let the question lie there on the air like the plume of smoke he blew out.
"I'm supposed to be on vacation. But I don't like to go too far." Murphy's Harbour is a one-cop town, up north of Toronto, a vacation spot. It had been jammed all summer, now it was emptying out for the long winter wait, but I still felt responsible. "The Provincial Police would take an hour to get here if somebody called for A Policeman Quick."
"How often does that happen?" He knew the answer as well as I did, almost never. He didn't wait for my reply but gave me the facts, fast and clean. "I need some help, the kind with muscles in it. I think you could handle it better than anybody else I've ever worked with."
"What's up?" I'm not hooked on risk or anything as neurotic as that, but policing Murphy's Harbour in the off-season is only a little bit livelier than counting sheep.
"Night before last, Friday night, Saturday morning, we had a disturbance on one of our sites. It's a construction site. Somebody slashed the tires on an earthmover. Client was madder'n hell."
"Where was the guard while this was going on? Off for a beer, asleep, what?"
Fullwell gripped his smoke between his teeth, eyes squinched up. "He was asleep, in the shack, which was lucky for him. We fired him, of course. Next night we put a young kid on, nineteen years old, keen, a real crackerjack."
"And?" I took a pull on my beer and waited.
"And this time, around two a.m. he didn't check in on schedule so the Field Officer made a hit on the property and found him with his head kicked in. Most of his teeth gone, internal injuries, he'd been gone over by experts."
I whistled. Toronto is a law-abiding city. Outside of bar fights that could happen anywhere, a man doesn't often get into that kind of jackpot.
"What do the police make of it?"
Fullwell made a little ceremony of tapping the ash off his cigarillo, not meeting my eyes. "We kept it quiet."
"An assault like that and you didn't report it? Why not?"
Now he looked up at me, out of eyes as pale blue as antique delft. "Not my idea, Reid. We've got a new VP Marketing. He's spent time in New York with the company, where this kind of thing happens more often. He figured the publicity would be bad for business. So he got me to keep it out of the hands of the police."
"What did the kid think about that? He must've been mad to know he's been ignored."
Fullwell shook his head. "No, that's cool. He's in hospital, all expenses paid, full salary, everything. We just want to catch the guys who did it to him. Meantime we put it around as a fall."
I sniffed. I've been a policeman for ten years now, nine of them in Toronto. To my way of doing business, this was all wrong. You don't sweep near-fatal beatings under the rug. You take them to the police.
"And you went along with this VP?" It didn't sound like the Fullwell I knew. He was always outspoken. I've heard him chew out their head office people for not caring enough about the men on the job.
"I didn't have a whole lot of options, Reid. This new guy is the blue-eyed boy. He's brought in a slew of new business and his word is better than mine at the company."
"Yeah, well that happens, I guess. Did you make the usual enquiries? Is the kid in hock to some loan shark? Does he have a jealous boyfriend, what?"
Fullwell took a farewell pull on his smoke and stubbed it out as if he were beating time to a record. "No, this guy's straight arrow. He's an engineering student at the U. of T., brings his books to the site and studies between making his rounds."